Ypulse Interview: Stephanie Kaplan, Her Campus

Today’s Ypulse Interview is with Stephanie Kaplan, current Harvard undergrad and co-founder, CEO & Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus Media LLC., a company started by Stephanie and two fellow students to launch the flagship site: HerCampus.com, an online mag for college women. Clearly these are the makings of a Totally Wired Youth Entrepreneur panelist, so we thought we’d reach out to ask Stephanie a few questions about her start-up.

hercampusYpulse: What inspired HerCampus.com? How did you and your team get from the initial idea to launching the site…and manage to fit in an undergraduate workload at Harvard?

Stephanie Kaplan: Her Campus was inspired by my co-founders’ (Windsor and Annie) and my work together on Harvard’s lifestyle and fashion online magazine.  We realized that the needs we were addressing through this Harvard publication extended beyond Harvard and were actually needs that were failing to be addressed on a larger, national scale as well.  These were the needs for 1) media that speaks directly to college women, a unique demographic for whom there is a hole in the media marketplace, as women are forced to make the jump from magazines like Seventeen (average reader age = 16) to magazines like Glamour and Marie Clare (average reader age = 33/34)- the 9 million college women in the United States are an important demographic with a unique set of needs that were not being met through existing media, and 2) a national platform to showcase the work of the the nation’s top college journalists.

At the same time, we observed the shift in media from print to online, especially among our own demographic—Her Campus seeks to provide a model for how magazines can transition online to keep up with today’s digital world—we specifically focus on how the Internet allows us to individualize content within our readership, something that print publications generally cannot do.

After recognizing these needs and the corresponding opportunity, we entered and subsequently won Harvard’s business plan competition, the i3 Innovation Challenge, in March 2009 with our idea for Her Campus (note: our i3 team also included another Harvard student, Kelly Peeler, who afterwards left Her Campus because of other commitments).

In summer 2009, Windsor, Annie, and I lived together in New York City, each working a related internship while preparing Her Campus for its launch in September 2009.  Annie built the HerCampus.com website and designed the graphics, Windsor sold advertisements and created a publicity plan, and I recruited writers, created the editorial skeleton for the site and template for the My Campus branches, and began producing our content.  We also did all of the necessary business actions including filing as an LLC and setting up a bank account.  Going from business plan to product was A LOT of work, but we broke it down into smaller tasks and also knew that once we got the site up, the feedback we received on it would be what would best inform our future plans for it and allow it to evolve, rather than spending two years perfecting everything before we launched.

The three of us are full-time undergraduates at Harvard College balancing a full workload with working on Her Campus, which is tough!  We all devote a huge amount of time to Her Campus, because we love it.  I’ll do a phone interview with a press outlet while walking from one class to another or take a break from writing a Psych paper to write a Founders’ Blog post. We’ve learned that unless you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing as an entrepreneur, you’re not going to succeed, because at the end of a long day of classes, homework, papers, etc., we’re the only ones telling ourselves to then work on Her Campus!  There have certainly been a lot of late nights, but we love doing it and have all chosen to prioritize it so that we can make it as successful as possible.  At the same time, we are the very demographic that Her Campus reaches out to, which makes our “research” that much easier.  At this point, our largest constraint with Her Campus is our time- we are so excited about how much we can do with Her Campus this year, but we know we will be able to do so much more with it next year after we graduate and can devote full time to it.

YP: Personally what type of niche-specific content did you see other female-targeted media missing? How did you hope to address that with the design and content Her Campus?

SK: As college women, we felt that media did not exist that spoke directly to “us”.  College women are forced to choose between magazines that are either too young, like Seventeen (average reader age = 16), or too old, like Glamour and Marie Claire (average reader age = 33/34), for them.  The 9 million college women in America are a demographic with a unique set of needs- we are independent for the first time in our lives, and are at a defining point in terms of figuring out who we are.  We care about our health, our love lives, and preparing for our future careers and where we will fit in this world.  Her Campus provides a hub for college women that recognizes the multi-faceted aspect of college women’s lives- we care about clothes and makeup and boys, but we also care about getting internships, being healthy, and understanding the role we play in world issues.

Equally important is the localized component of Her Campus.  Her Campus individualizes its content college-by-college by establishing “My Campus” branches at schools across the country, supplementing national content with local, campus-based content.  This allows each reader to have a personalized experience on the site, reading our national content that is applicable to all college women, supplemented with local happenings from her own campus.  Her Campus will expand to 1000+ colleges and universities nationwide over its next years.

YP: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of working exclusively with college journalists? The most challenging?

SK: As college journalists ourselves, we find it so incredible to be able to work with our most talented peers and showcase their work on a national platform.  It’s tough for aspiring journalists to get published, especially in magazines, as many colleges have only a campus newspaper that students can write for and do not have their own magazine, and summer internships are often unpaid and require you to live in New York City!  Many of our writers have already gone on to secure prestigious magazine internships at Glamour, Hearst Digital Media, and Teen Vogue, among others, and it is so exciting for us to begin fulfilling Her Campus’s mission of providing a career launching point for these incredibly talented student journalists who just need a suitable outlet.  I would say the most challenging aspect is the fact that all of us are also full-time college students!  So we are all balancing so many different commitments and demands, as opposed to “real world” editors whose job is to write articles all day!  For our writers, writing their articles is something they squeeze in around everything else they’re doing- classes, homework, extracurriculars, maybe also writing for their campus publication, etc.- this means a lot of corresponding at odd hours!

YP: How did you seek out and approach advertisers? Could you describe the site’s relationship with the Juicy Couture brand?

SK: We focus on exclusively approaching advertisers who we feel will be of real interest to our readers. We focus on seeking out brands and companies that college students across the country would be realistically interested in interacting with. With this approach, we bring added value to both our advertisers and to our audience as we work very hard on this matching process.  Her Campus provides advertisers with access to our network of colleges and college women across the United States, a demographic that is typically difficult to access given how frequently we change mailing addresses.

Juicy Couture is one of our primary advertisers. In addition, we have entered into a strategic marketing partnership with Juicy. This partnership is called the Juicy Sisterhood and is a custom-designed campus brand representative program that we manage for Juicy Couture. We recruit and primarily manage the girls, also known as “Juicy Sisters” and feature their blogs on our site. http://hercampus.com/juicy-sisterhood

YP: Could you describe the marketing plan? How are you and your team getting the word out to campuses and keeping readers engaged?

SK: The majority of our marketing is word-of-mouth, and specifically Facebook-based. We drive anywhere from 30-40% of our traffic from Facebook. We start a Facebook group for each of our My Campus branches, and maintain a very active Her Campus profile, group, and page.  We and our writers post links on our Facebook profiles to articles we wrote or like on the site, and we find that our friends frequently click on them and then go on to spend more time on the site.

Along these lines, the 50+ member Her Campus Team (us, writers, Campus Correspondents, bloggers, core business team) are simultaneously our publicity agents, reaching out to their friends and their campuses to publicize the Her Campus brand.

In addition, we regularly reach out to both national and local media outlets including newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs for coverage- we are hoping to also do some TV appearances this spring.

We are in the midst of planning our biggest publicity event to date, set right now to run the week of March 22-28. We’re not releasing details for this event yet, but it will be huge and we expect it to drive a lot of traffic to the site. We’ll keep you updated on this!

YP: What comes next for Her Campus? Anything else Ypulse readers should know?

SK: Just under four months since Her Campus’s launch, we are thrilled with our progress to date, but also so excited to see where we can go!  This spring we will be massively expanding to other campuses through the establishment of “My Campus” branches- we will have branches at 20 colleges by February 2010 and at over 50 colleges by May 2010.  We also have some very exciting cross-campus contests coming up this spring that you should stay tuned for!

For more campus coverage, visit the Ypulse Campus Channel, sponsored by Campus Media Group.

2 Comments

  1. Ingrid

    Interesting interview, but I think it is very narrow-minded of the Her Campus founders to act like they were the first media outlet to address college women - College Candy and College Fashion, two established online magazines, have been serving this demographic for years now. It’s nothing new. HerCampus may be a great site, but the founders should not pretend like they invented the concept of a college student focused website.

  2. Ypulse Essentials: Teens Lose Sleep To Tech, JoBro

    [...] including HerCampus.com founders Stephanie Kaplan, Windsor Hanger, and Annie Wang. Also see my interview with Stephanie on [...]

Got something to say?

YPULSE, INC.
143 WEST 29TH, 7TH FLOOR
NEW YORK, NY 10001
646-797-2779